Thales has been awarded the contract to supply a new generation of UK passports. The new blue non-EU electronic passport has been gradually introduced since 2020.
The new British passport integrates for the first time a polycarbonate data page and includes new security features developed by Thales.
Discover some of the major changes impacting the new travel document.
The new blue-cover UK passport is one of the most technically advanced passports in the world.
Setting new standards in the fight against fraud.
The UK passport has always been a universally trusted document. It allows nationals to prove who they are and the freedom to move worldwide.
The holder's data will be duplicated on an electronic microprocessor embedded in the document, which features a secure operating system (OS) developed in-house by Thales. It complies with relevant ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) standards.
Polycarbonate for the new British passport
High-end security features include using polycarbonate rather than paper for the passport data page containing the holder's biographic details.
This transparent material has interesting optical properties, is very flexible, and has excellent impact and heat resistance with overall great durability.
And no surprise, this material is also used to make… bulletproof glass.
When used in pure form and not mixed with other plastics, the different layers of polycarbonate fuse together to form a solid monolithic structure.
Why is polycarbonate a perfect match for security features?
A polycarbonate data page on Thales sample.
Significantly, this is the first time polycarbonate has been employed in the British passport, delivering a step-change in defence against fraud.
Once fused, it is impossible to separate the layers of such a polycarbonate page.
As a result, any attempt to swap the information or photograph will destroy the page. Moreover, polycarbonate supports a 'one-block' concept, as described in our report on passport security design, with all the images, secure elements, and holder data interlocked.
All features, secure elements, and ID document holder data are integrated to protect each other from any fraud attempt.
For example, the holder's photo, laser engraved in the card body, is fully or partially interlocked with the secure artwork. Printed features are in between the document surface and the laser-engraved layer.
The photo side can be protected by tactile features such as positive/negative embossing, Changeable or Multiple Laser Image (CLI/MLI) or tactile laser.
The portrait can be protected by embedded Diffractive Optically Variable Image Devices (DOVID).
Alongside these compelling security benefits, polycarbonate will enable outstanding durability over the document lifecycle.
Holistic security design
Our goal is to design a passport so secure that its authenticity can be trusted beyond any doubt.
We focus on protecting both the document and the citizen's data.
Security relies on the document design, production environment, and the personalisation process.
A robust design demands the association of security features that are simple to check and tough to alter with a passport structure that protects its integrity.
Therefore, we typically aim to use the same design elements throughout different security features at various security levels and use distinct techniques to reproduce them. Thanks to this philosophy, combined with our expertise and development power, our solutions are at the edge of innovation – and always way ahead of fraud or manipulation.
We implement each technology at its highest quality and level and use means and materials with limited availability.
In a nutshell, we use technologies and materials that are extremely difficult to copy, use, and come by.
First, identify potential threats.
When designing a highly secure passport, the primary task is identifying potential threats. Then the necessary security measures are selected to counter these potential threats.
Select security features
The selection of a security feature is based on its ability to protect a specific part of the document (data page, personalised data) and increase or reinforce other security features.
Polycarbonate enables optimum use of each security feature: data page security features can be used to protect personalisation, and personalised features can protect data pages.
All design motives and security features we integrate into documents fully comply with the ICAO doc 9303 specifications and supplements. They also integrate the best practices to secure and protect the document from forgery and counterfeiting.
Create a unique and distinctive passport
Our design approach is based on years of experience with documents in the field, feedback received from professionals and end-users using the documents, cooperation with security experts and forensic laboratories, as well as the expertise of our dedicated engineers.
We're proud to have successfully designed some of the most secure and attractive passports, IDs and driver's licenses in recent years.
Paper matters for the British passport
The physical security of a passport booklet relies strongly on the technology of its paper – its core component.
To maintain an effective defence against counterfeiting, all these paper elements need to be carefully considered. As ever, success will ultimately lie in making it as complex, time-consuming and expensive as possible for forgers to copy or compromise a legitimate document.
Thales has acquired in-depth know-how on paper technologies, delivering passports and ePassports since 1987.
The company has a longer history of security printing activities, including banknotes, stamps, and bonds.
Helping travellers tread lightly
The landmarks do not end there. The new British passport will be the first in the world to achieve CarbonNeutral certification.
This means that its carbon footprint will be independently measured, validated and reduced to net zero in line with The CarbonNeutral Protocol, recognised as the global standard in this field.
Techniques used to achieve this goal typically include purchasing carbon credits and sourcing 100% renewable electricity to match that consumed by operations such as production and distribution.
Blue passports to return after Brexit.
Indeed, the UK heads back to blue.
The introduction of the new passport will see the UK revert to the traditional blue cover design.
This was dropped in 1988, when the country adopted burgundy, in line with most other EU member states.
The passport format remains the same (B7 format: 125 × 88 mm or 4.921 × 3.465 in).
Following the country's decision to leave the European Union, the contract award was challenged by some politicians and sections of the media. However, the Home Office confirmed that the procurement process, conducted in strict compliance with EU regulations, delivered the country's best value and high-quality solution.
Thales' proposal scored full marks in a number of key performance criteria, such as cyber-security.
The blue UK passport is making a return.
Defined by international cooperation since the 1920s
The size and much of the format and content of virtually all passports are now determined by another international body, the ICAO.
The US also has its requirements for overseas passports, which must be met if they are to be included in its visa-waiver program.
Thales has been contributing to the US ePassport since 2006.
The Origins of a British Icon
The UK's iconic blue design dates back to the very first set of international standards established for passports.
In 1920, the League of Nations (effectively the predecessor of today's United Nations) organised the Paris Conference on Passports, Customs Formalities and Through Tickets, which defined the format and information to be included in any internationally recognised passport.
Notably, one of these requirements was that all the text should be in French, in addition to the language of the issuing country.
Today the ICAO offers nation-states a little more freedom, with a choice of English, French or Spanish as a second language.
Thales DIS in the UK
Thales DIS (Digital Identity and Security division) has substantial operations across five sites in the UK and already employs over 500 staff in the country.
Thales DIS has been proud to serve the UK government since 2012 by providing secure cards and data processing systems via the DVLA contract.
- The UK Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) card, issued by Home Office to non-EU nationals, shares some key features with electronic passports, such as a polycarbonate card body and a contactless chip which complies with the same technology and data management specifications as those used in electronic passports.
- The UK driving License in polycarbonate, as well
- Smart Tachograph cards issued by the UK authorities
In other UK markets, Thales UK Ltd is a major player
- In the supply of financial cards to many UK Banks and Building Societies –all cards are personalised in one of our two centres in the South of England.
- The company offers products and services to Banks that enable them to provide their customers with a more differentiated product, such as contactless and high-end metal cards or services such as placing their pictures on a card and receiving their PIN by SMS, Web or an App. Thales also supplies several hardware and software solutions to Banks and other businesses aimed at fraud prevention, encryption of data and protection of the IPR of our customers.
- As a major supplier to the telecom industry, it supplies SIM cards to many Mobile Network operators and Virtual Mobile Network Operators, such as Vodafone. Next-generation technologies, including eSIM management, Over the Air Activation of phones and eSIMs , are also provided in the United Kingdom.
- In transport. Thales supplies many transport authorities in the UK.
Actively supporting Charities
Thales is also aware of its responsibility to the community. Our offices work with local and national charities supporting financially and by staff with time to attend and support these charities in the field.
Reaping the benefits of unrivalled global experience
In adopting Thales' solution, the HMPO (Her Majesty's Passport Office) will benefit from the company's extensive international experience in designing, manufacturing, issuing, and personalising many of the world's most advanced passports.
Notably, this includes contributing to over 30 national ePassport (biometric passport) programs, including recent landmark projects for Finland and Norway.
Thales has expertise in the following fields related to Government programs:
- Secure embedded software development
- Paper printing with processes equivalent to banknote (Intaglio, for example)
- Polycarbonate data page manufacturing
- Security features development and manufacturing
- Inlays manufacturing (material embedding the contactless antenna and the RFID chip)
- Passport bookbinding
- Citizen biometric enrolment, secure storage, and Automated Biometric Identification systems
- Border and visa management systems, including eGates and document verification readers
- Digital ID and Mobile ID solutions
- Document personalisation and lifecycle management.